book review – Pigeon-Blood Red

My first foray into gangster fiction came in the form of Ed Duncan’s Pigeon-Blood Red.  This a well-paced, stylised-violent page-turner had echoes of Pulp Fiction and enjoyable hints of spaghetti westerns.

Pigeon-blood red was a phrase coined by Indian gem dealers centuries ago. It’s the most desirable colour a ruby can have. In legend it’s said to replicate the hue of the first two drops of blood that trickle from the nostrils of a freshly killed pigeon.

what it says on the cover …

For underworld enforcer Richard “Rico” Sanders, it seemed like an ordinary job. Retrieve his gangster boss’s priceless pigeon-blood red ruby necklace and teach the double-dealing cheat who stole it a lesson. A job like a hundred before it. But the chase quickly goes sideways and takes Rico from the mean streets of Chicago to sunny Honolulu, where the hardened hit man finds himself in uncharted territory when a couple of innocent bystanders are accidentally embroiled in the crime.

As Rico pursues his new targets, the hunter and his prey develop an unlikely respect for one another and Rico is faced with a momentous decision: follow his orders to kill the couple whose courage and character have won his admiration, or refuse and endanger the life of the woman he loves?

SHELF: crime | thriller
MY RATING: ★★★☆☆
AUTHOR: Ed Duncan
PUBLISHER: Creativia
FORMATS: Paperback | Hardback | Kindle
PUBLISHED: February 2016

my review

There’s no hanging around with Pigeon-Blood Red; this gangster style thriller jumps right into the action from the very start, and it keeps up the momentum throughout.  Separated into three parts, I was reminded of Tarantino’s epic film, Pulp Fiction with its parallel storylines, and seemingly unrelated characters crossing each other’s paths at various points throughout the book.

When Rico and Jerry are sent by their loanshark boss, Frank Litvak, to fetch an unfortunate defaulter in for a bit of a scare, neither of them realise this simple job will turn their comfortable, henchmen lives upside down. By chance, the hapless Robert stumbles upon the priceless ruby necklace Litvak entrusted to Jerry and Rico, and seizes what he sees as his opportunity to salvage his failing marriage to Evelyn.

It doesn’t take long for Rico and Jerry to discover the necklace is missing, or to put two and two together about who has it.  Especially when they learn Robert has hot-footed it to sunny Honolulu to win back Evelyn’s heart. Evelyn, meanwhile has already made up her mind about her future; a decision that galvanises when she bumps into her college-days-heartthrob … and learns her good friend and travel-buddy, Rachel, is taking more from their friendship than she should.

The character-driven plot progresses with a good pace, delivering some neat chance encounters, sleights of hand, and good old-fashioned fate; good and bad.  In a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, trigger-happy Rico stalks the necklace through the luaus and hotels of Honolulu. But as the necklace changes hands, his task becomes increasingly difficult and he’s forced to return to Chicago empty handed. 

Never one to leave loose ends, Rico is determined to close this job out; a last hurrah before pursuing a new, less murderous life with the woman he loves. Perhaps his head isn’t in the game anymore, because as he pursues his final kills, he’s being pursued himself … by a man intent on revenge.  In a scene reminiscent of high noon at the ok corral, an unexpected turn of events brings out the volatile Rico’s more compassionate side.

The author dips into the backstories for each of the main characters as the book progresses, but I felt they interrupted the momentum of the story at hand rather than fleshing-out the characters. Rico certainly stands out as the most developed character due to his profile in the story and his presence throughout the book.  

Pigeon-Blood Red is a well-paced, gangster-pulp page turner with enough action that held my attention throughout.  I was intrigued to know how the threads of the story would connect, and the plot has been structured in a way that this doesn’t become completely clear until the latter chapters of the book.  On the back of the dramatic preceding chapters, the story’s conclusion felt a little anti-climactic to me. I understand this is the first book in a trilogy, but this ending felt rather final in a ‘happy(ish) ending’ kind of way, rather than a ‘to be continued … and you don’t want to miss what’s next’ kind of way.

Thank you to Book Publicity Services and Ed Duncan for sending me advance proof copy of Pigeon-Blood Red in return for an honest review.

Ed Duncan author

ed duncan

Ed Duncan is a graduate of Oberlin College and Northwestern University Law School. He was a partner at a national law firm in Cleveland, Ohio for many years. He is the original author of a highly regarded legal treatise entitled Ohio Insurance Coverage published by Thomson West in 2008 which he updated annually through 2012. Ed currently lives outside of Cleveland and recently completed the third installment of the Pigeon-Blood Red trilogy, Rico Stays.

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